Too Early for a Best-of-2016 List? NAH!

If you’re walking around with f-oldin’ money, here’s my rather casually assembled Top 15 releases for the first quarter of 2016, with some explanations:

1. Various Artists: Original Cast Recording of Hamilton*
2. Kool and Kass: Barter 7
3. Bajakian, Aram: Music Inspired by “The Color of Pomegranates”
4. Williams, Saul: Martyr Loser King
5. Lynn, Loretta: Full Circle
6. Lamar, Kendrick: Untitled Unmastered
7. Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega–Sega Sounds from Mauritius
8. McPhee, Joe, and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy@
9. Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn
10. Wussy: Forever Sounds
11. Wills, Bob, and the Texas Playboys: Let’s Play, Boys–Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills’ Personal Transcriptions
12. Childbirth: Women’s Rights
13. Hemphill, Julius: Julius Hemphill Plays the Songs of Allen Lowe
14. Bowie, David: Blackstar
15. Bradley, Charles: Changes

*Definitely not 2016—but, dang it, I slept on it, and isn’t it still relevant in the Year of Our Gorge?
@Definitely not 2016—but, dang it, it’s seven discs! GIVE me just a little more TIME/And my take will surely GROW!

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Good to My Earhole, March 12-17: “Mi Canto”

Highlights of the last week’s listening and reading, scores plucked out of the air as long as they are no lower than a 7–and, whaddya know, I am reviewing some new stuff (albeit mostly by oldsters):

Aziza Brahim: MI CANTO – 9 – A Sahrawi siren augmented by guitars redolent of desert, Delta, and djinnis. Needless to say, side effects may include euphoric trances.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions: LIVE AT HOLLYWOOD HIGH – 8.8 – Live albums: who needs ’em? Well, I treasure this for three reasons. One, it captures MY AIM IS TRUE material punked further up and in pretty high fidelity, with the L. A. teens in the audience seeming to get it–reminded me of a Carthage, Missouri, teen circa ’78-’80 who was definitely getting it. Two, the live setting seems to loosen up EC’s singing, which always seemed just a bit fussy to me when under studio control; he often settles into a bit of roar-and-yell which I find exciting–though I just wanna tell him, “You don’t have to introduce every song.” Three: the definitive recorded version of the film noir compendium “Watching the Detectives,” which he sings as if he’s extemporizing.

Kendrick Lamar: UNTITLED UNMASTERED – 9.2 – At first, I thought these were table scraps, but Kendrick’s rhyming and flow are too carefully honed for that. Then, for some strange reason–I think it was the influence of “untitled 06/06.30.2014”–I began to sense a trip-hop experiment, but it’s too verbally dense for that. Then it became clear, from the welcome intrusion of what I have begun to think of as his community voices–whether they emerge from actual human larynxes or machines–and his subtly morphing vocal inflections that this is of a piece with TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY. Less conceptual, more casual, thus…more pleasurable? If not, pretty close, and, though it’s argued that pure pleasure is counterrevolutionary, even revolutionaries need occasional loose fun to replenish their drive to make it to the mountaintop. I wish he’d have thrown in that “Colbert Report” performance as a bonus track, though!

Loretta Lynn: FULL CIRCLE – 8.5 – The power and clarity of her unmistakable voice, sounding barely touched by eight decades, are miraculous, reason alone to give this album a shot. Because the arrangements are spare and attractive, even the weakest compositions (and a cover of “Fist City” that doesn’t do the impossible) go down easy. And best in show? The first song she ever wrote, prefaced with a great anecdote. Secret missing ingredient? Jack White or someone like him.

Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: CANDY – 9.0 – Across seven discs of improv featuring only McPhee’s multiple horns, Nilssen-Love’s percussion, and plenty of deliberate silence (and–oh yeah!–a very appreciative live audience!), I was NEVER bored. Not once. And I listened to the discs consecutively. Joe’s a very young 76, and he sounds happy whether he’s evoking India, honoring Ayler, or turning mouthpiece spittle into music. To paraphrase Tom Waits, not for everyone–maybe, for those seeking sonic adventure.

Alan Warner: MORVERN CALLAR (1995) – 9 – A rock and roll novel for sure. Just when you’re sure that the titular Scottish heroine is being propelled by her boyfriend’s suicide on an working-class odyssey of distinctly existential import–through house-party and hotel room bacchanals, through pubs and raves and and resorts–you’re caught up short by flaming statues of the Virgin and a drunken stagger into church. It’s an odyssey of some sort, that’s for sure, and at the very least, Morvy’s propelled by mixtapes of Last Exit and Can (about whom Warner authored a 33 and 1/3 tome). Figures: the book’s dedicated to Bill Laswell.

Good to My Earhole, March 1-9: “Destroyed on The Lathe of Heaven”

Carter

James Carter Organ Trio: LIVE AT THE ST. LOUIS JAZZ BISTRO, MARCH 4-5, 2016 – 10 – First time I’ve got to see a major jazz player multiple nights of a residency, and now I want to do it again. Measured from his explosive entry onto the jazz battlefield, Carter may not now be what every jazz buff must have expected from him by the time he reached his forties, but, I’ll tell you this: he’s really NOT abandoned his core values from his late teens: reverence for multiple traditions (swing, bebop, and freedom), irreverence for reverent stage attitude, a nose for concept. THIS particular concept (one he’s visited before in a wholly different way) was “Django Unchained.” Across our two nights, he didn’t repeat a single tune and, as he was fond of saying, he “dealt with” Reinhardt’s repertoire on tenor, soprano, and alto, without impeding its swing and flourish. Getting to speak to him after the second show, I politely asked him for an Earl Bostic tribute in the future, a request he unsurprisingly ducked. I still hold out hope.

Fats

FATS DOMINO AND THE BIRTH OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL (PBS) – 8.8 – Hard to imagine this warm, sweet, smiling man starting a riot, but ain’t that America? This 54-minute documentary (maybe an hour too short) does a nice job of telling the story of one of the few founding fathers who’s still with us, in the process reminding us to give a man props while he’s living. Some great rare footage, sharp detail from the New Orleans that cradled him, and narration by the man destined to be Morgan Freeman’s heir, Clarke Peters. Watch the film here: http://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365676531

720x405-zReplacements_Couch-Alternate-1985_Credit-Deborah-Feingold

Photo above by Deborah Feingold, from the Rolling Stone article linked within the blurb below.

Bob Mehr: TROUBLE BOYS–THE TRUE STORY OF THE REPLACEMENTS – 9 – Mehr’s excellent research provides the only account we’re ever gonna need of the ‘Mats. He isn’t a stylist, but he stays out of the way of his story, and offers hair-raising tales and heart-breaking revelations even the hardcore fan may not ever have encountered. AND: he is fair. Mehr also caused me to wonder what kind of music is being made by today’s kids who are coming out of homes like the one the Stinsons survived. Read an excerpt about their magnificent/disastrous SNL appearance here.

The Replacements: DON’T TELL A SOUL – 8.7 – Just prior to this coming out, I scored a promo poster and put it on my bedroom door (bachelor days); after I heard it, I wrote under the title “…but this album SUCKS!” Held that position until after I was forced to put it in its proper context last week by Mehr’s book (and Mehr does not quite smile upon it himself). I now find it not just moving, but a kind of a quiet triumph in the face of simultaneous disasters. It helps to listen to it without expecting it to be the band’s previous three albums, which, at the time, I could not help doing. Note: if you get the expanded version, you can program it to be a more kick-ass and crazy album, should you desire that. They still had it in ’em.

Mark Turner: LATHE OF HEAVEN – 9 – One of those records the title of which fits perfectly. Turner might be the one jazz tenor saxophonist the beginner who knows all the giants’ names most needs to check out–he’s inventive and subtle, much like what I’d imagine a “free” Lester Young to sound like. However, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and drummer Marcus Gilmore dang near steal the record. From Chuang Tzu misinterpreted beautifully by Ursula K. Le Guin: “To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.”